Caucus day arrives, candidates' last push

January 3, 2008 5:50:28 PM PST
For the past 35 years, no one has been elected president who did not finish in the top three of the Iowa caucuses. So the candidates know how important Thursday night is.They spent the last few hours securing last-minute votes.

About the only thing the candidates and their campaigns can actually do in the last couple hours is make a few more phone calls, run a few more TV ads and offer a few more people rides and babysitters to come out on a cold Iowa night and spend two hours in public, casting votes out in the open. But those votes will create some sparks, break some hearts and start to make history.

The final push in the hours before caucus night in Iowa means working the phones to get out the vote in the Des Moines headquarters of former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, who is on the verge of overcoming the vast financial resources on another former governor, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who held a wide lead for months. That's in part because Fred Thompson got into the race late, and two other well-known Republicans, Senator John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani, decided to put their resources in states other than Iowa.

"Nobody has ever been outspent 20-1 and has done as well as I've already done in the caucuses thanks to people like you that didn't just say hey, I want to see who waves a checkbook at me," Huckabee told a crowd Thursday.

Nate Plautz, Huckabee volunteer, said he believes in Huckabee because he, too, is a true born-again Christian.

"I'm pretty pleased at the prospects, and our guys are working hard. And I'm not terribly well-known to the rest of the country but making progress," said Romney

On the Democratic side, Illinois Senator Barack Obama was shaking as many hands as possible in Des Moines' biggest food court over the lunch hour as he looks for an edge in a close race against Democrats John Edwards and the former first lady Senator Hillary Clinton.

"I think we have to do well. I think all the candidates have to do well. I think we're in a position to do that," said Obama.

Despite the wall-to-wall media coverage, only a fraction of Iowa's voters will actually caucus, in part, because spending an entire evening on politics is a lot more difficult than a few minutes in a polling booth.

Kara Sinnard, Iowa resident. Said she won't be caucusing simply because she has another commitment.

A lot of party officials say they love the caucus system. A lot of candidates have to simply put up with it. And 100,000 Iowa voters will create some instant victors and huge momentum.

And along with breaking some hearts, some people's campaigns will be just about over after Thursday night if they don't finish a strong third or better. Among those who are on the fence is Republican Fred Thompson. Rumors are already circulating that if he finishes a poor third; he will drop out in a day or two and throw his support behind John McCain. He denied that in a public appearance.

As for the others, if candidates don't finish third or a very strong fourth, it's unlikely they'll last much past New Hampshire with campaigns too expensive and too grueling.